MTB Specific vs. The Crossfit Swing

Dec 4, 2012 at 19:05
Dec 4, 2012
by James Wilson  
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Views: 12,516    Faves: 72    Comments: 2

By now almost every rider I talk to has seen or heard of kettlebell training. Even if they don't know the name everyone recognizes the funny looking weight that looks like a bowling ball with a handle welded to it from shows like The Biggest Loser. Heck, even Lance Armstrong has been pictured doing swings with a kettlebell and you can find them for sale in Wal-Mart.

However, while they get more popular I have also noticed some trends that show the potential dark side of kettlebell training as well.

First, I love training with kettlebells. It doesn't take long poking around on my site to figure that out and anyone who has been to my facility knows that I have more kettlebells than dumbbells. The unique benefits you get from them and the training methods used with them has really helped my riding and, through my MTB Kettlebell Conditioning Program, hundreds of other riders as well.

Problems arise, though, when you have mountain bikers following programs that are created by trainers who don't understand the movements behind the exercises and instead simply use kettlebell training to burn calories or build "work capacity". When you have someone who is just trying to lose fat or get in shape it doesn't matter as much how they move, they just need to move a lot. You end up becoming "fitter" in the gym (i.e. better at the workouts) but not much faster on the trail, which isn't the point of training.

As a mountain biker you need to make sure that you are doing each exercise in a way that will maximally transfer over to the movement patterns you need on your bike. Knowing what movements you are trying to train and how they are going to help you is the real key to lasting improvements. You need a program that addresses these movement needs in a systematic manner so that you can ride faster, longer and with more confidence on the trail.

In my experience, nothing exemplifies this more than using a "squatty" swing. The swing, when used correctly, is one of the most valuable exercises you can do as a rider…but only if you understand and practice how it applies to the bike.

On the bike proper body position hinges on your ability to minimize how much the knees bend and maximize the bend at the hips. In other words, instead of moving your center of gravity (a.k.a. your butt) up and down you need to learn how to move it forwards and backwards. This forward-backward movement and projection of energy keeps you balanced on the bike and sets you up better to bunny hop and manual your bike.

This is important to know because the swing should train this forward-backward movement, not an up-down movement commonly being passed off as a swing. If you "squat" your swings then you are simply reinforcing that movement habit and it is what you will apply to your bike as well. How you ride is simply an extension of how you train and how you want to move on the bike needs to be the focus of your training, not "work capacity"…whatever the hell that means anyways.

In this video I show you some of the common mistakes I see riders make, including the infamous "Crossfit Swing", and explain why doing your kettlebell swings that way will ultimately hold you back on the trail. I'll then show you a couple of swing fixes you can use to dial your swing in so it will give you maximum transfer to the trail.

-James Wilson-

MTB Strength Training Systems is the world leader in integrated performance training programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. As the strength and conditioning coach for World Cup Teams and 3 National Championships, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. James has helped thousands of riders just like you improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit to sign up for the free Trail Rider Fundamentals Video Mini-Course.

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  • + 39
 crossfits a cult.. it wont be long before there's some mass crossfit suicide.. sponsored by Reebok
  • - 16
flag skierdud89 (Dec 4, 2012 at 22:42) (Below Threshold)
You're dumb
  • - 14
flag evilrydr (Dec 5, 2012 at 3:22) (Below Threshold)
 CrossFit is a Revolution. Have you ever seen or heard of anything that has turned so many peoples lives around, into BETTER? No.
  • + 9
 I also haven't seen a revolution who injured so many people.
  • - 8
flag skierdud89 (Dec 5, 2012 at 6:21) (Below Threshold)
 When it comes to crossfit there are too different koolaids you can drink. You can join the movement and get in the best shape of your life or you can hate on it because everyone else is getting such good results and you're jealous. I can see which flavor is in your cup.
  • + 10
 Is that the official crossfit answer you people are allowed to cut and paste? It sounds like it's straight out of a bad 90's infomercial. I did crossfit for like 6 months. It's better than not doing anything at all if you're all bent out of shape but I got MUCH better results with a different programs.

What you crossfit fanatics do not understand is that training isn't a "one size fits all" type of thing.
  • + 8
 Yup, evilrydr, actually I have...a bike.
  • - 1
 johnnyboy, 100% agree with you.
  • + 5
 Yeah... crossfit is such a good program that they had to invent their own competitions because it translated into sports so well...
  • + 8
 But...but... They're ELITE athletes! I know because crossfit people tell me this all the time. As Kenny Powers once said: "I play real sports. I'm not trying to be the best at exercising".
  • + 0
  • + 2
 Well considering the majority of special programs military members crossfit there must be something good about it...
Crossfiters like what they do why do you hate on them?
  • + 2
 you spend minimum $1800 a year trying to be the fastest at moving home made weights around in a dank garage and you've got to justify the expense some how Wink

In all honesty, whatever gets you fit is a good thing, but obsession, breeding competition, breeding injury simply isn't healthy.
Crossfit as a supplement to sports training is all well and good in theory.. but the core mentality of crossfitters doesn't really apply to that goal..

heaven forbid you might not want to join the caveman/paleo revolution either and you'll be cast out and tarred with feathers.

I've seen some excellent and fast results from friends at crossfit.. but I've also seen injury as a result as well as significant plateauing of improvement as well as members getting pushed into exercises/intensities that they simply should not be 'encouraged' into... but that's the cult mentality that you simply can't escape...
  • + 5
 $1800 a year? I'd rather spend that on a mountain bike and just ride the sh*t out of it.
  • + 3
 I agree that there are some bad representations of Crossfit out there. And unfortunately, just like most situations the bad overcomes the good, no matter how small the bad or how great the good is. Proper Coaches and trainers know when to put their newer clients/athletes into which type of workouts. Typical pinkbike people, don't stereotype your opinions based on one event or story that you may have heard of.
  • + 12
 Everytime i see one of these vids im like "yeah i should definantly work on my upper body strength/ endurance Big Grin "... 30 seconds later " f*ck it, i'll just ride"
  • + 4
 Honestly, riding is a MASSIVE WORKOUT. And whle it's got some areas it hits the hardest (between climbing and riding BMX/Mtn bikes for 28 years I have huge forearms and a strong back/legs) it's a pretty awesome whole body work-out aye... You're not gonna get big and bulky, but you'll be strong none the less. So Riding as a work-out, that's win win!!!!! Smile (For the record I do all kinds of crap, but I'm just saying riding is a perfectly great work out right.)
  • + 1
 Yeah, riding is a great workout, especially DH I find. My upper body tends to tire faster than my lower which I find a good sign that its not a "legs only" discipline.

Training in a gym is still compliments it greatly though.
  • + 8
 Nice, thanks for the video. I'd argue that most of the crossfit groups I've been to teach correct position, but some/most of the folks tend to be too focused on the time they get in each workout... Instead of learning the correct movement first, then transferring that into speed. Luckily the coach at our gym also rides, and most of us aim for the technique you demonstrated. But it gets hard after a few circuits of other things, haha.
  • + 7
 That is my biggest critique of most crossfit gyms/workouts. The focus on speed and reps has a detrimental effect on form, which if done for extended periods of time, can cause serious injury. If done right, these workouts are very effective and beneficial, but not enough focus is put on form.
  • + 3
 i think something that a lot of riders, downhillers in particular forget about in whatever training they do is cardio. spin class and jogging a few nights each week does wonders.
  • + 3
 @WillYumKlem i disagree. Do you do Crossfit? The main thing every Crossfit gym i have ever been too including the one i go to is focused on form, the time and more RX weight's are for the advanced lifters only usualy. Any class iv done with beginner Crossfiters all the coaches make them do weight as little as a PVC pipe sometime just to dial the form down. Their biggest focus is most definitely the form. Although the form of some movements like the KB swings as seen here are different then what maybe we as MTBers should be focused on. But i can most definitely say since doing Xfit only 3 times a week im in the best shape of my life and much faster then when i used to do training on my own every day.
  • + 4
 Then please explain to me the point of butterfly pullups. How exactly, except for speed, are they better than a strict "chest to bar" pull up? Those are blasphemy to pretty much anyone outside the xfit circles.

Also, anybody who trains will tell you that as you get tired and the clock is ticking (and your ego kicks in) even if you know how to do a textbook deadlift or whatever else, your form WILL go through the window.
  • + 1
 The point of a kipping pullup is speed. But you have to understand that most people who are beginning in crossfit aren't kipping either. There has been a recent shift to encourage strict pullups to everyone. Once X amount of strict pullups can be accomplished, it's up to the athlete and coach to determine if a kipping pullup should be taught and executed. Keep in mind, the philosophy of crossfit (in part) is Intensity. That is what makes it work so well.
  • + 0
 Last time I did crossfit it was a few years ago. Good to see they added some guidelines for beginners as back then, the only guideline was "scale the Rx'd WoD to your capabilities".

By the way, intensity, in training terms, is how heavy (percentage) you lift compared to your 1rm. High intensity work is usually above 70%+ and needless to say, you do not achieve many reps at that level.

You're talking about volume which is "reps x load".
  • + 1
 The point of the kipping and butterfly pullup is not to replace static pullups and chin-ups. It's a faster way to get the work done (i.e. getting the head over the bar). Kipping has the widest range of motion but butterflys are faster. Using these methods you can do more work in less time because they use rhythm and technique in combination with strength and power to get the work done more efficiently. Metabolically these pullup variations are way more challenging than a static pullup and require greater full-body integration. But that's not to say better. They all have their place and are worth learning. I can do all three and they each offer different value; I try to include all pullup variations in my training.
  • + 1
 Some of the foks who do kipping pullups are hardly getting to the bar and using it as an out when they get tired, I struggle with the motion and don't do them in workouts... I agree that variance is great, and using each would be ideal. I tend to use a small band after a few sets if I can't continue w/o or slow down drastically. I think the technique is difficult for most as hardly anyone does olympic lifting, and the competitiveness can get out of hand. But in the good classes, it's against yourself in a group setting with the support of everyone else... I agree that technique does out the window when tired for some things.
  • + 1
 I basically don't consider kipping pullups and "strict" pullups to be the same at all. One is an upper-body movement, the other is a full-body movement. Crossfit is also not sport specific other than the Crossfit Games. It's for general conditioning which a lot of people don't understand or forget.

Ideally, everyone would focus on perfect form and then go for weight and speed, which is how I approach my WOD, but the truth is that people get focused on the wrong thing and let that fall to the wayside. Ideally, every mountain-biker should be able to trackstand as it's fundamentally how we balance on our bikes, but how many riders do you know that can't do that?
  • + 0
 Hell even with strict pull ups 99,9% of the people manage to screw them up. In like 4-5 years in gyms, I have probably seen several hundreds of people perform pull ups and I've only seen 1 girl do them properly.

Add movements that require decades to master in a speed based competition setting... Recipe for injury. That's my main beef with crossfit.
  • - 1
 @PLC07... you went into a crossfit box and got your ass handed to you by someone you thought you could beat and now you think crossfit is to blame. crossfit isn't about competing with everyone else. it's about competing with yourself. just because you couldn't do it doesn't mean that it's not right for someone else. crossfit isn't for everyone. it's right for me and my wife.

who, by the way, can do more strict pullups than you.
  • + 6
 So many assumptions from a single person...

Never went into a crossfit box because they charge 4x the price of a regular box around here. Quite a rip off considering everything you need is available in pretty much any other gym. Quite frankly, I have enough motivation on my own so I don't feel the need to be "part of something" to get the weights off the ground. Any serious weightlifter will tell you that you need to check your ego at the door if you want to get anywhere in the weightlifting game and I tend to agree with that so the whole competition vibe is not appealing to me. I actually stopped because I thought it was boring as hell and yielded very little results in the areas I was looking for.

You tell me that it isn't about competition and you end your post saying that your wife can do more pull ups than me... Do you even think before you type? Even if she does, what do I care anyway? Since when pull ups are a measure of anything? I probably can deadlift, squat, bench, row and shoulder press more than she does. Ride DH better too while we're at it! I also do muay thai and BJJ so I could probably beat the shit out of her if I wanted. Who cares? Congratulations on those sweet strict pull ups I guess. Keep up the good work!
  • + 1
  • + 1
 So you want to beat up my wife because she can do more pull ups than you? That's pretty rough.
  • + 2
 For some reason I was convinced that's all you'd be able to come back with. Have a nice day.
  • + 11
 I reach the same results with swinging my balls... no pain, no gain!
  • + 3
 That squatty swing is simply a bad swing. The whole MTB-specific swing concept is silly. Kettlebell swings, like any movement should be done properly to be safe and effective. It just happens that the swing he advocates for riding training is a proper swing and the bad swing he describes is not what is taught by Crossfit, it's just poor technique. Crossfit teaches the hips-back minimal-squat swing; going overhead adds another dimension of core control and flexibility to the movement (which are both useful for riding dontcha think?) but doesn't affect the hips at that point.
  • + 1
 well said.
  • + 2
 Everything you need to properly train is in your house and attached to your body. Isometric exercising is THE best way to keep fit and will cost you NOTHING. Now, for example the Beach Body Insanity/P90X type disks are not cheap, but they're free if you look on the internet well enough and actually, my NIKE APP on my iPhone has some GREAT exercise routines devised by top athletes. The point any athletic therapist/kinesiologist will tell you is to keep a good routine of various movements and repetitions that work your entire body and also promote a balance of strength and conditioning, eat well, and always, ALWAYS stretch after your various excercises. Someone only designed these weights to make money on our gullability, don't be fooled.
  • + 1

Go work on some land for a few months running a chainsaw, hauling wood, running a shovel etc... (Better yet build some trail while you're at it.) best "cross fit" work out in the world and it doesn't cost a dime. Wink
  • + 2
 I may be weird but, in think its soooo boring to train in a gym. As a rider that does it for fun I prefer to ride again and again and again. It just doesnt fit in "my" definition of "freeride"!
  • + 0
 that is because it is boring and nearly everyone hates it. Check out this article and you may understand
  • + 4
 I really don't understand how working out at a gym would have an effect on the definition of freeride. Plus, not everyone (like me) can get out to ride all the time. I actually have trouble finding any time because of how busy I am plus there are almost no trails or anywhere I can ride where I live. Because of that working out at the gym helps keep me in shape and ride better the next time i can hit the trail
  • + 8
 You don't think being stronger, more powerful, better balanced, agile and flexible would help your riding? Or your ability to survive crashes?

You don't think your bike seeming lighter and your body moving better would help you have more fun when riding?

We project the fun of riding on the gear that gets us there. Why not project the fun of riding on the training to achieve the same?
  • + 1
 Well this is great stuff but, these exercises look like they can create a back injury. I have watched a lot of back safety videos at work and that workout looks like a repetition of what not to do. Could you provide some insight as to making sure there is no injury or how this is different than lifting with your back?
  • + 5
 Its not the same even if the muscles involved are similar. Picking a box from the ground uses the legs more, kind of like a deadlift. A kettlebell swing gets its power from the hip thrust, more like a good morning (which is one of the main deadlift assistance movements) It's basically different parts of the same movement. Notice that he doesn't swing the bell from the ground except for the initial pick-up.

In both cases (or any other movement), the key to back safety is to keep your back straight, not which muscle you use.
  • + 1
 Kettlebells are legit...just started using them about a month ago. This sounds super gay but what I use to get ready for the season is Insanity. Yes, the same shit on the infomercial with all the hot broads in tight sports bras. It's like CrossFit only less of a cult and a hell of a lot cheaper. I much rather be riding my bike but I can't always ride as much as I'd want to. I ride a single speed most of my time but it still helps when I'm on my AM rig. You laugh and mock me but that shit is so damn hard.
  • + 1
 these videos have been a wealth of ideas for me. with my (seemingly) never ending concussion (since august effing 1st) I'm unable to go out and ride, run, rock climb, ski.... DO things. To get any exercise I have to do it in the safety of my own home and keep it relatively low intensity (constantly monitoring for brain symptoms).

.... and boy does it ever get boring if you do the same exercise program every day! (not to mention you only focus on certain muscles and neglect others.) Thank you James for posting these and adding variety to my exercise regimes.
  • + 1
 I've been working with a trainer all year who uses many of James' techniques, and at 49yrs old, I have never been stronger on the bike. Better enduance, control, balance... Do it folks, you'll not be sorry...
  • + 5
 or just deadlift Wink
  • + 2
 Gyms sucks! Ride your bike, hike your bike, lift your bike into the back of a truck, shovel dirt...there are plenty of good work outs for us that are all bike related.
  • + 3
 Informative but I was kind of hopping he might hacker himself.
  • + 2
 I'm gonna do these, I get tired from picking my bike up after falling off so much. 30 ibs kettle ball = 30 ins bike?
  • + 1
 I love crossfit. Iv been doing it 2-3 times a week for the last 3months & iv lost 12.5kg & my 1 rep max strength tests have gone up on average 30%
  • + 1
 I was wondering when this would show up on the front page of pinkbike times. Thanks for taking the time to put these out, and for free on top.
  • + 3
 can someone delete this before someone gets hurt. just go out and downhill
  • + 2
 I gotta get me some balls, some kettle balls.
  • + 0
 Kipping pull ups have their place. Heres a product all bikers should get to equal out the top and bottom muscle tone
  • + 1
 the noise he makes during the reps is so hardo
  • + 2
 Hahaha funny video
  • + 1
 Great ideas, thanks!

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